Protests over re-election broil Bolivia

Bolivia has seen strikes and protests since the Dec. 4 ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) allowing President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The ruling was met with marches, road blockades and work stoppages that caused varying degrees of disruption in eight of Bolivia's nine departments. A student mobilization in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern department of Santa Cruz, heart of anti-Morales sentiment, ended in violence, with the regional offices of the electoral tribunal burned to the ground. Hunger strikes were launched in six cities, with at least 20 still ongoing.

The TSE ruling came despite the Bolivian constitution’s provision for term limits, as well as the results of a popular referendum held in February 2016 that rejected Morales' bid to amend these provisions. The ruling cited a November 2017 decision by the Plurinational Constitutional Court (TCP) that term limits amounted to a violation of Morales' right to run, and of voters' rights to elect him. The high court decision was supposedly based on free-election principles enshrined in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that several Latin American countries have laws barring re-election. Two out of the six TSE members voted against Morales' re-election bid. And the vote followed the October resignation of the TSE chair, Katia Uriona, who was another potential dissenter. 

The protesters, calling themselves the Defenders of 21F for the date of the 2016 referendum, comprise a loose coalition of "citizen platforms" including disillusioned former Morales supporters as well as conservative sectors that have opposed Morales from the start. Morales, of course, has painted the entire movement as "the right, which protests to protect its interests."  (NACLA, El Deber, Santa Cruz, Dec. 27; El Deber, Dec. 17;  Jurist, Dec. 6)